Introducing heterarchy : a relational-contextual framework within the study of International Relations : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Politics at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
This thesis posits that for too long International Relations (IR) has been overly rigid and insular,
discouraging cross-disciplinary cooperation within the social sciences and becoming increasingly
irrelevant to policy-makers. IR academia tend to stick rigidly to their theoretical paradigms in
interpreting the real world, straight-jacketing their thinking into theories that limit analysis.
However, humans think relationally and contextually so why not apply this form of thinking to
IR? Heterarchy, the theoretical framework presented here, seeks to overcome this silo effect, to
expand IR’s relevance, and encompass previously barred academic areas to the sub-discipline.
This thesis presents a new relational-contextual framework within which empirical variables can
be situated to provide a different understanding of actors’ actions and speech acts within the IR
field.1 Heterarchy sits in part within both foundationalist and anti-foundationalist ontologies,
challenging both positivist and post-positive schools by relating the world through relationalcontextual
rationales. Heterarchy suggests that IR (referring to the practice of international
affairs) can best be understood from a sub-systemic viewpoint where the behavior of actors can
only be observed by knowing the differing contexts between ‘self’ and ‘other’, and where
relations continuously form and shape each actor; hence its relational-contextual nature. These
relational-contexts are initiated through certain identifiable catalysts which stimulate similarly
identifiable variables to expose actor relationships to the observer. While this does have
constructivist and relativist underpinnings, heterarchy differentiates itself from both in terms of
its approach and methodology. Having laid out this conceptual framework, the thesis then
investigates how heterarchy might work empirically by exploring the Japanese-South Korean
relationship which defies conventional understandings.